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Middle Grades Mathematics Textbooks

A Benchmarks-Based Evaluation

Part I (Continued)

As an investigative tool, Project 2061’s curriculum-materials analysis procedure can be powerful in identifying strengths and weaknesses of textbooks and textbook series. But it can also provide useful insights about the quality of currently available textbooks in general. For example, consider the following findings:

Content Depth. On the six benchmarks used to probe conceptual and skill development of core mathematical ideas, 12 of the 13 textbooks evaluated did not differ greatly in their inclusion of number and geometry skills. On the other hand, there were noticeable dissimilarities in the breadth and depth of their conceptual treatment of fractions, shapes, and equations. None of the textbook series attempted to address all of the ideas and skills contained in the six benchmarks. One textbook series addressed five of the six benchmarks in depth; four series addressed four in depth, and the remaining textbooks addressed three or fewer in depth.

Instructional Effectiveness. The analysis of the textbooks’ instructional strategies, however, revealed stark contrasts among the textbooks in the adequacy of instruction for the specific benchmarks. Four of the textbook series are highly rated for their engagement of students, development of mathematics concepts, and support of teachers. Eight textbook series received mixed ratings on instructional criteria.

Good News

  • There are a few excellent middle-grades mathematics textbook series.
  • The top two series contain both in-depth mathematics content and excellent instructional support.
  • Most of the textbooks do a satisfactory job on number and geometry skills.
  • A majority of textbooks do a reasonable job in the key instructional areas of engaging students and helping them develop and use mathematical ideas.

Bad News

  • There are no popular commercial textbooks among the best rated.
  • Most of the textbooks are inconsistent and often weak in their coverage of conceptual benchmarks in mathematics.
  • Most of the textbooks are weak in their instructional support for students and teachers.
  • Many textbooks provide little development in sophistication of mathematical ideas from grades 6 to 8.
  • A majority of textbooks are particularly unsatisfactory in providing a purpose for learning mathematics, taking account of student ideas, and promoting student thinking.

In summary, findings from the Project 2061 evaluation are cause for both optimism and concern. It is clear that reform principles for mathematics education are beginning to have an impact on textbooks and on the developers and publishers who create them. Nevertheless, a great deal more information is needed on how these same textbooks are actually used in the classroom and how students actually perform on appropriate assessments. Our hope is that these new insights will be useful to educators, parents, and policymakers in their efforts to improve mathematics achievement for all students.

Part I
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Part II
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